Road map to better health care system in Australia

Research News
Published: 
Wednesday, January 31, 2018 - 1:15pm

A report released today by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) says that precision medicine has the potential to transform Australia’s health care system.

Precision medicine combines knowledge of a person’s unique genetic makeup, protein levels, and their environment to allow accurate disease prevention and treatment tailored to individual needs.

To date, the main focus has been in well-supported clinical areas, such as cancer, and ‘rare’ single-gene disorders which are a cause of intellectual and physical disability in children.

However, The future of precision medicine in Australia report says that opportunities to improve health outcomes for complex disorders, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease are equally exciting.

“With careful planning, advances in precision medicine and the technologies that support it will offer great value for the health of all Australians. Precision medicine is the personalised medicine of the future,” said the chair of the ACOLA expert working group, Professor Bob Williamson.

Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, who commissioned the report on behalf of the Commonwealth Science Council, said it was a roadmap to a better health system for the nation.

“The essence of this report is optimisation: the optimisation of public policy for individual care. It provides the intellectual framework for a healthcare revolution that will shape the lives and choices of all Australians,” Dr Finkel said.

The report sets out how precision medicine will build on the strong tradition of medical research in fields such as immunology, genetics, vaccine development, bionics and imaging in Australia. It explains where precision medicine is likely to go over the next five to ten years. The report also notes that the technologies that underpin precision medicine are also of great value to other fields such as agriculture and the environmental sciences, where there is a high level of skill and commitment in Australia.

However, the report also warns that precision medicine could lead to genetic discrimination, or continue inequality of access to health care. Ensuring benefits to everyone in Australia will require ethical thought and planned implementation.

The forward-looking report has nine key findings, and is the second in the horizon scanning series. It was funded by the Federal Department of Health.

“By working in close partnership with the Chief Scientist and government departments, and bringing together some of Australia’s best minds, from many disciplines, ACOLA is able to provide evidence on priority issues for Australia to inform policy and guide opportunities,” said ACOLA President, Professor Glenn Withers.

The launch was attended by four-year-old Louis, who has benefited from precision medicine, and his parents Amy and Martin. Louis was diagnosed with a severe condition at just five months old, which comes under the umbrella term of ‘Leigh’s Disease’. A comprehensive genomic analysis of his DNA allowed doctors to isolate the gene which had produced Louis’ illness, and develop a treatment regime.

Access the report here.